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Why is Ascension Day so important?

What would you identify as the climax and completion of Jesus’ life and ministry? Surprisingly, this is not a trivial question. One of the key differences between John and the synoptic gospels is that, where the synoptics portray the crucifixion as a necessary but incomplete act on the way to the resurrection, John portrays it as the climax and completion of Jesus’ ministry in itself. In place of Jesus’ cry of despair (Matthew 27.46, Mark 15.34), John records a cry of triumph ‘It is finished!’ (John 19.30). The promise of ‘living water’ springing from the belly or side of the one who believed (John 7.38), best understood in reference to the Temple prophecy in Ezekiel 47, is fulfilled in the blood and water from Jesus’ side at his death (John 19.34). No wonder the true testimony of this leads to faith (John 19.35).

But most of the NT would point to the resurrection as the completion. Paul’s theological linking of Jesus’ death and resurrection to our movement into and out of the water of baptism (Romans 6.3–4) suggests that crucifixion and resurrection belong together, and this is evident all through the proclamation of what God has done. This Jesus, whom you crucified, God raised from the dead, Peter tells the Pentecost crowd in Acts 2, and we are witnesses of this. Paul, in Luke’s parallel depiction of his ministry, also talks of ‘Jesus and the resurrection (anastasis)’ (Acts 17.18), so much so that his hearers think that Anastasis is the female consort goddess to the male god Jesus. Paul’s summary of the gospel for the Corinthians is that ‘Christ died for our sins…was buried…and was raised on the third day’ (1 Cor 15.3–4).

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What is the pastoral impact of eschatology?

In my new Grove booklet on eschatology, after outlining eschatological expectation in Old and New Testaments, I end my reflecting on the pastoral implications of what we have found.There are many aspects of Christian living which are affected by our understanding of eschatology, and where misunderstanding creates serious obstacles both within the church and at […]

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Why don’t we talk about the end of the world more?

My latest Grove Booklet is now available and it offers an overview of eschatology—beliefs about the end things—starting with background ideas in the Old Testament and looking at the key issues in the Gospels, Paul and Revelation. My introduction explains why this is such an important issue. Eschatology, meaning ‘understanding of last things,’ is of […]

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Disappointment and God’s sovereignty

I wonder if you have heard this kind of story recently. A friend of yours is perhaps happy in a particular job or ministry role, or perhaps senses a need for change. An new opportunity comes up, and something stirs in your friend. Other people sense the same, and perhaps get in touch. ‘Could this […]

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Hope and fulfilment in the gospels

Biblical eschatology is founded on three key assumptions. The first is that the God of Israel is the rightful ruler of the world (and not just of Israel alone), often described in terms of his kingship over the creation. The second is that, even though this is the situation in theory, in practice the world […]

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Interpreting the sheep and the goats in Matt 25

Jesus’ ‘parable’ of the sheep and the goats in Matt 25.31–46 is very well known and widely misinterpreted. It forms one part of the extended teaching about ‘the end’ distinctive to Matthew (compared with Mark and Luke). It is most commonly interpreted as an injunction to help the poor; most Christians (in the West at least) read […]

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How soon will God act?

Unless you are a deist (even perhaps a moral therapeutic deist) then belief in the orthodox understanding of the Trinity implies an expectation that God, by his Spirit, is at work in the world and in the life of the believer. In 1 Corinthians, Paul describes the active work of the Spirit in the congregation […]

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What is the meaning of the Ascension?

What would you identify as the climax and completion of Jesus’ life and ministry? Surprisingly, this is not a trivial question. One of the key differences between John and the synoptic gospels is that, where the synoptics portray the crucifixion as a necessary but incomplete act on the way to the resurrection, John portrays it […]

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What does resurrection mean?

The idea of resurrection is central to Christian belief and theology—but it is also the key idea which separates the New Testament from the Old. The Old Testament appears to assume that, after death, people continue in some sort of shadowy existence in a place called Sheol—often translated ‘grave’ or ‘pit’ in English Bibles. There are some examples of resuscitation (see 1 Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 4:18-37)—but these are acts of compassion and never shed any light on life after death.

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Who’d want to be perfect?

I have become unexpectedly gripped by the new sci-fi drama on Channel 4, Humans—and I am not the only one. It has become Channel 4’s biggest drama since The Camomile Lawn in 1992. It is set in an alternative present, where robots have been developed far enough to look human and are known as ‘synths.’ […]

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